Tag Archive | miss america organization

Be Kind

This has been one of those years that make you question everything.

Parkland. Santa Fe. Kentucky.

As our country mourned, debated and prayed over school shootings and tragedies repeatedly happening across America, students and in some cases, teachers, walked out of class to protest the violence, demanding change.

Did it make a difference? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m alone in believing there were many kids who walked out that didn’t fully understand what or why they were protesting.. but simply wanted to get out of class.

At Westside Community Schools, building leaders and staff members tried something different.. they encouraged students to take action with clear and well-thought out plans to enact change, not only outside our schools, but INSIDE them. Westside High students staged a sit-in; they lined the hallways with posters, signs and silence not only paying tribute to the victims lost, but spreading awareness to each other  about violence and to anyone who saw photos and videos of their event. Westside Middle School took this a step further, planning an entire week of activities promoting Safer Schools.

Organized by Student Council members, students created and sold T-shirts uniting their student body and benefitting their school. They made posters reminding each other to report problems and concerns, and they gathered together for an emotional assembly with a resounding message: KINDNESS MATTERS.

That was the theme of their week – to simply be kind to one another. Love always wins. That spirit of brotherhood and respect was palpable during the final assembly wrapping up their Safer Schools week.

It’s the same mentality that has compelled a young woman from western Nebraska to accumulate more than 1,000 hours of time serving others here, and around the world.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We need to accept people for who they are and embrace their uniqueness,” said Brianna Little, crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County last summer. “My platform is Be Kind, Be The Change, bringing acts of inclusion, acceptance and kindness into our daily lives.”

Brianna is no stranger to service, an active member of her community for the last several years as a teen titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program. However, she credits a trip to Nicaragua last summer as a key turning point in her mission as both a Miss Nebraska contestant, and a human being.

“I not only was made aware of the need in the world, but I saw just how grateful someone could be for the things we take for granted,” said Brianna. “When a young child, not even school age, runs up to you, dirty bowl in hand begging for beans with big, hopeful eyes, or when a mother will take any clothing you have to offer for her child, your view of the world will change the way mine did.”

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Brianna continued that mission when she returned home to Harrisburg, Nebraska, working to deliver meals to those in need throughout her community. She’s also volunteered with the Salvation Army, hospital patients, and the Special Olympics. Still, she wanted to do more.

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“I got and talk to schools about the importance of being kind to one another, and creating kindness challenges for them,” said Brianna. “Intertwining my platform with the national Miss America Organization partner, one of the first challenges I present is for the kids to collet coins for the Children’s Miracle Network. I speak with other local organizations such as our Scottsbluff Kiwanis Club about my platform. Whenever I volunteer or make an appearance, I also give away shirts, lanyards, bracelets and chapsticks with the Be Kind, Be The Change logo to remind people to always remember they, too, can be the change.”

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Brianna, a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Scottsbluff High School who has already earned an astonishing 51 college credits, notes the facts and statistics that back up the impact movements like her platform can have.. and the problems we all see in society without this work.

“The biggest issue facing my generation is self image,” said Brianna. “There are so many expectations for kids and teens that are both mentally and physically exhausting. There always seems to be something about yourself that needs change, from outward appearance to how to act. 20% of kids and teens in any given year will experience depression. 14% will at least consider suicide. 8% will make an actual attempt on their life. This is one of the many reasons why my platform is so tremendously needed. As a society, we need to change how we view the world and treat people.”

 

 

Reinforcing Brianna’s message are the connections and friendships she’s made by being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“The girls are amazing, kind and very likeminded,” said Brianna. “When they say it’s a sisterhood, it’s true. No matter what happens, I will have spent countless hours with some of the most wonderful women across Nebraska.”

Maya Angelou once said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Brianna Little shows through her words and actions she is brilliant, driven and determined. She is an award-winning cheerleader, a future University of Nebraska-Lincoln college student who hopes to become a Maternal Fetal Medicine Obstetrician. People certainly see the impact she’s having already, named just this week as a 2018 Miss Nebraska Community Service Award finalist.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Still, she hopes she’s remembered for KINDNESS. For making people feel better about themselves and the world around them, and for paying that powerful feeling forward to impact change in others.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“Knowing just how much of an impact I can make is the sole reason I pursued the title of Miss Nebraska 2018 and wanted to be part of this,” said Brianna. “Beyond the title, I want to show everyone what I stand for and share my message. I hope to inspire people to push the limits of their capabilities and always reach ahead of them to the next great thing awaiting in life. For me, if that is the title of Miss Nebraska, I will be thrilled and ready to represent my state sharing my platform.”

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To follow Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Energizer Bunny

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Bring It On

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Alliance Kodi Baumann

COMING SOON.. Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson

The Sisterhood Is Real

As long as I can remember, I’ve had very vivid dreams. I swear I dreamt of my husband before we met, and I fully admit that I am less than pleasant with him if I have a nightmare about him falling for another woman. I dream about flying quite a bit.. and dreams about falling, especially careening off the Missouri River bridge, FREAK ME OUT.

This week, I had a dream about my pal, Alex Bisson. So random – I haven’t seen Alex since last summer! But that’s how my whackadoodle brain works sometimes.

I dreamt I was supposed to be emceeing a big awards ceremony. Everyone was dressed up.. and I was in sweatpants and a t-shirt. Then, to make matters worse, I was petting dogs at the animal exhibit (because why wouldn’t there be an animal exhibit at a high-profile awards ceremony?) and a goat threw up all over me. WHAT TO DO? I suddenly remembered that across the high school (because that’s suddenly where the event was held) there might have been a spare set of clothes in the KETV wardrobe closet (which also happened to be at said high school). I sprinted there as fast as I could, made it to the closet, and nearly burst into tears when I realized there was NOTHING that would work. I opened the door…. and there stood Alex, saying “I can help!” She magically found me one of her anchoring outfits, helped me change, and I rushed back to the event where I joined Rob and elegantly shared with the audience how I was late because a goat threw up on me. Everyone had a nice laugh and we moved on – the event was a success and no one remembered me being late or looking like a dirty hamper.

WHAT. IN. ALL. THE. HECK.

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I seriously wonder sometimes what is going on in my hairspray infused skull. The next morning though, the overwhelming feeling I woke up with was peace and gratitude for Alex, that she was there for me to help.

Alex and I became friends when she began working at KETV as a reporter, then the First News Anchor. I was asked a question frequently in my time at KETV: do you get along with the other women? I think there was an assumption that we were competitors; we were all vying for air time, the same prime time spots, and therefore, we must have all had secret contempt for each other. SO FAR FROM THE TRUTH.

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This photo was taken in October at Adrian Whitsett’s wedding in Florida. My caption with this on Facebook and Twitter: my heart is happy. The women shown here all worked for KETV at some point (two still do!) We were not competitors; we were teammates. We turned to each other for advice and support. We cheered each other on when we found success. We shared clothes, makeup, hairspray (A LOT of hairspray), and insight. In a way, we were very much sisters, connections that we confirmed were still strong during this wonderful trip. Because we were all facing similar challenges and comparable journeys, we understood one another in ways others could not.

I see the same love and support in another sisterhood: the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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Yes, each of these women wants, or has worked for, the same thing: the title of Miss Nebraska. But the environment surrounding them is not Miss Congeniality brawling, gossip-mongering, or vindictive game-playing. They form friendships that span years. They learn how to support like-minded women, an attribute that will serve them throughout their lives. And when they feel alone, juggling service, school, family and work… they reach out to the sisters who can empathize because they are doing it, too.

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That phrase has become a universal message in recent weeks, one of the toughest times the Miss America Organization has faced in decades. Our program has been in national headlines, not for the goodwill we inspire, the opportunities we offer or the relationships we nurture, but for an email scandal and ensuing criticism of our organization as a whole.

Every time I see a tweet or post from someone questioning why we have beauty pageants in 2018, or why we parade around young women in swimsuits like a meat market… I fight the urge to reply. I want to write about the scholarships we offer thousands of young women every year. I want to write about the networking opportunities this program provides, the lessons in confidence, public speaking and presence, personal composure and more. I want to share my own experiences that only happened because I was once a Miss Nebraska local titleholder. I want to tell those critics about our success stories: the doctors, award-winning journalists, philanthropists, business owners, teachers, and more who all gained incomparable life skills and attributes because of this program.

What is wrong with BEAUTY? What is wrong with a woman feeling beautiful, and promoting beauty on the INSIDE as well as out?

I get the swimsuit argument; truly, I do. But I ask critics to look beyond their initial assessment: we live in a world of obesity, indulgence, heart disease, inactivity, high cholesterol… and let’s be frank, when you know you are going to be on stage in a swimsuit, you WORK HARD. You hit the gym, you eat clean, you BECOME HEALTHIER. We are hopefully building the foundation of health in these women that will last years beyond their time competing for a crown. More so, our program is evolving; we see women of varying shapes and sizes from the local to national level. Health is not defined as ‘skinny’; we see muscle, positive lifestyles, CONFIDENCE. In my years attending the Miss Nebraska Pageant, I have left not feeling ashamed for the women who walk that stage, but wanting to BE BETTER myself, and wanting to work to be the healthiest and most confident I can be.

I don’t post any of this when I see those negative remarks…. because HATERS GONNA HATE. There will ALWAYS be negative assumptions and unfounded opinions about our program. They don’t want to listen, and I would argue, many haven’t taken the time to learn more about what Miss Nebraska and the Miss America Organization stand for TODAY.

SERVICE. SUCCESS. SCHOLARSHIP. STYLE.

To those who WILL listen, we will show the world the value of this program through our titleholders’ stories. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to join me over the next few months as I introduce you to the women competing for the titles of Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. They are scholars, public servants, artists. They are ART, they are inspiring, they are ambassadors of goodwill. They are proof of what our organization truly stands for; not objectifying women, but empowering them.

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I’ve written before about all of the positives I gained from being a local titleholder in this program. Cash scholarships. Speaking skills and confidence. Lessons in networking and learning from criticism. Learning how to take care of myself. Getting to sing in front of thousands of people. Traveling across the country. And learning the importance of supporting other women; in pageants, career and life, we are only competing with ourselves, not each other.

Haters, go ahead and hate. #TheSisterhoodIsReal. Miss America is relevant and empowering. This organization, much like my time at KETV, helped instill in me that we as women are better when we support each other and surround ourselves with others who are pushing to be the best versions of themselves.

Alex, my fellow anchor at KETV, is also a Miss America alum. She’s an NCAA record-holder in swimming, a goosebumps-inspiring singer, one hell of a softball player, a majestic woman and a beautiful human being.

We believe in this sisterhood… and in helping a sister out when goats attack. Alex, thanks for the outfit.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter, CLICK HERE to follow on Facebook, CLICK HERE to follow on Instagram.

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COMING UP.. Tristen Wecker, Miss Fur Trade Days 2018

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014 through 2017 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

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Stethoscopes & Tiaras

This week, I celebrated my 36th birthday the best way possible… with Influenza A.  I’ve written about this before, this has NOT been my season of health.  In baseball terms, I’m trying to hit for the cycle of ailments, I suppose.

Sunday, I texted my friend Natalie for her over-the-phone diagnosis.. poor girl is my only physician BFF, and therefore, I bother her on the weekend when I can’t reach a doctor.  Thanks to her help and advice, I (hopefully) turned onto the road to recovery sooner than waiting a few extra days.

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Photo courtesy CHI Health

My friend Natalie may look familiar.. because she’s Dr. Natalie Stuntz, a highly respected and admired pediatrician on all of the CHI Health commercials in eastern Nebraska. She’s also a former Miss Omaha contestant and 2-time 1st runner up to Miss Nebraska USA.  She’s a busy mother of two, wife, and yet she still she donates her time across Omaha and to communities around the world.  She’s beautiful, brilliant, and kind.

Maybe it’s a doctor thing.. the same dedication, intelligence and drive required to get through medical school and residency is also exemplified in other facets of life.  An Elkhorn teenager hoping to pursue medicine herself is already following in Dr. Stuntz’s footsteps in more ways than one.

Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Emily Lenser

“I plan on attending UNL as a pre-med student, dancing on the Scarlet Dance Team and moving on to medical school,” Emily told me recently.  “My dream is to be a pediatric surgeon.”

Big goals for a young woman who can’t yet drive a car.  Emily credits her focus to her participation in pageants, including her preparation for this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Omaha.

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“I love competing in pageants and have been doing so since first grade,” said Emily.  “Sometimes even my friends had a negative view of pageants.  I have really talked to them about pageants and all that is involved with pageantry.  I focused on telling them about interview skills which will help me in my future, speaking in front of an audience, confidence and grace on stage, and the wonderful opportunities to serve my community.”

Emily has been a titleholder within the National American Miss system and continues to mentor younger participants.  She’s a student at Elkhorn South High School, where she’s active with the Storm Dance Team.  Emily also finds time to do what she loves most, to joke around and to’shop, shop, shop!’

 “As a busy teen, it’s very important to stay organized with my schoolwork, activities, dance team and competitive dance,” said Emily.  “[Being organized] is the only way I can do so much!”

Those are the kinds of things Emily is excited to share with not only a panel of judges, but to any group who will listen as she advocates for pageant girls everywhere.

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“My platform is ‘Don’t Judge The Sparkle: Changing Pageant Perception’,” said Emily.  “There are so many people who do not understand the world of pageantry.  I am making this my mission and want to change the negative stereotypes that some people have of pageants.  The general public does not understand all of the wonderful opportunities that take place through pageants.  College scholarships, interview skills, public speaking skills, poise, grace, resume skills just to name a few.”

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I’ve done the name dropping, giving you proof of the incredible women who’ve been part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.  Brook Matthews-Hudson, co-founder and producer of Omaha Fashion Week.  Brittany Jeffers, Emmy Award winning broadcast news journalist.  Dr. Natalie Stuntz, role model for young women dreaming of being a doctor.. and Miss America.

“My goal/dream is to become as involved as I can in the state pageant,” said Emily.  “Of course I want to win and along the way I hope to make new friends, promote the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization, serve my community and continue to do well academically.  [There are] so many wonderful opportunities available to serve others.  It really makes a person feel good.  I hope to continue promoting serving others.”

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017 Tristen Wecker

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

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I have a new best friend.  I look forward to the time we spend together everyday.  My husband knows about this new friend.. and encourages our relationship.

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Meet Vytas.  Vytas is really good at yoga.  Vytas is helping ME get better at yoga.

Note: I’ve never met Vytas.  He lives in my computer.  Please halt all potential warnings to Vytus about his creepy ‘friend’ Brandi.

Like so many, I struggle with my weight and nutrition.  I lose weight, then I lose interest and lose control.  I’m an emotional eater.  Pretty sure my body is 99% coffee instead of water.  When I was 18, I could get away with eating Chex Mix and Mt. Dew for breakfast.  Now, a few trips through the Runza drive-thru and the only thing that fits are my husband’s sweats (and he gets grumpy when I steal them!)  But aside from how I look and my confidence, my health has started to suffer because of my less than ideal lifestyle.  I feel like I’ve been sick in some form since early November.. and just after Christmas, I contracted strep throat.  A trip to the ER, 2 rounds of antibiotics and a week in bed later, I promised myself I was going to start doing a better job taking care of the body God has given me.

I’ve been trying Beachbody on the advice of my friend and stunning beauty, Amanda Soltero.  One of her challenges to kick off 2017 included 3-Week Yoga Retreat with Vytus.  I tried it.. and became hooked.  I LOVE the way yoga makes me feel.  I love awakening the muscles I used to stretch in gymnastics as a kid.  I love realizing I can touch the floor with my hands, or now keep my legs straight in downward dog.  I love when I automatically sit up straighter at my desk because the practice has already improved my posture and carriage.  Most of all, I love the RETREAT that yoga has provided me.. a chance to breathe deeply and for 30 minutes a day dissolve all of the stress and burdens that have piled on throughout the other 23 hours.

For a young woman from Omaha, this is a message of health and wellbeing she’s understood for quite some time.. one she’s now taking to children across eastern Nebraska.

Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael

“I am currently a yoga teacher and went through children’s yoga teacher training this summer,” said Wellesley.  “Both of those experiences led me to mindfullness.  I then continued my training on mindfullness with [my platform] ‘Mindful Schools: Peace Begins With Me’.”

A platform that skyrocketed last fall when Wellesley was crowned Miss Omaha 2017.

“I’ve always admired the women that have been in the Miss Nebraska Organization,” Wellesley told me recently.  “Then, when I was old enough, I felt as if it was time for me to stand up and be a leader and role model like the women who have been in the system before have been for me.”

A title doesn’t make you a role model.  A crown doesn’t make you a leader.  But Wellesley used both of those tools to find new audiences in schools across Omaha.

Wellesley sharing yoga and mindfulness with students at Westside’s Oakdale Elementary and at Brownell Talbot, where she attended school!

“Mindfullness is the act of paying attention on purpose without judgement,” said Wellesley.  “I’ve spent a large part of my year so far going to schools and working with students on techniques to help them breathe, focus, listen and just feel good!  In a world that is so chaotic and go-go-go we have to find a way to slow down.  It’s healthy! Mindfulness brings that stillness we are often missing.”

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Wellesley is also a frequent visitor to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, delivering blankets over the winter holiday and bringing in Valentine’s Day crafts for patients this week.  She’s also partnered with businesses like Yogurtini in Lincoln to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America Organization’s community partner.

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“Three words to describe me are driven, organized and focused,” said Wellesley.  “Goal setting is one of my favorite things.  When I set a goal I dig in right away and figure out what it takes to get me to my dream.”

CLICK HERE to hear more from Wellesley during a guest appearance with Matt Tompkins on News Talk 1290!

These are the character traits Wellesley hopes stand out to both children and adults, attributes she credits in part to her participation in the Miss Nebraska Organization.

“This organization has helped me to clearly articulate my opinions and beliefs without fear,” said Wellesley.  “It has given me experience in skills I will always need such as interviewing and networking.  I go into a lot of situations with more confidence than ever because of this organization.  The fact that I get to even put on the Miss Omaha crown and sash and meet so many amazing people around my city is unreal to me.  The whole experience is a dream come true.”

Wellesley is clear: her big goal is to become Miss Nebraska.  However, she is also mindful of the big picture.  Wellesley is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student majoring in advertising/public relations and journalism and has authored her own fashion/pop culture blog for several years. CLICK HERE to check it out!

“Beyond the pageant world, I hope to one day combine my loves of journalism and yoga to work for a wellness magazine or website like The Yoga Journal or mindful.org,” said Wellesley.  “At the state pageant, my plan is just to do my best and get people thinking about mindfulness and all of its benefits.”

Wellesley and her fellow titleholders will be the first to tell you, just as yoga isn’t just ‘stretching’, competing for Miss Nebraska isn’t just slapping on makeup and waving your hand in parades.  They spend  hours in the gym every week.  They dedicate countless hours to people and causes they care deeply about.  They study, they work hard, they plan.  But at the end of each day, Wellesley also remembers to breathe deeply and to reflect.

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“Here’s a mindfulness tip before I go.  I do this everyday,” said Wellesley.  “Take five minutes, mute your phone and listen to your breath.  Maybe you say ‘inhale, exhale’ with each breath or count how many times you breathe.  Thoughts will come up and that’s ok!  After five minutes sit for a minute and notice how you feel.”

On behalf of this blossoming yoga instructor, Namaste.  To you, Miss Omaha Wellesley Michael, NamaSLAY.

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Photo courtesy Michael Dar

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael’s blog, Wellesley Lauren.  You can also CLICK HERE to follow her on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter.  To contact Wellesley for appearances and speaking events, email wellesleymich@gmail.com.

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant or to become a contestant CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, and CLICK HERE to follow on Twitter. You can also email missomahapageant@yahoo.com, or contact Director Marianne Grubaugh at ggrubaugh@cox.net.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Katie Harris

NEXT.. Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Special Feature: Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

FACT: You are more likely to have a son play in the Super Bowl than you are to have a daughter compete for Miss America.

This weekend, as people all over the US watch the biggest game of the year, dozens of women from across Nebraska are gathering in North Platte, hoping this is the first step in their journey to Atlantic City and the iconic crown.

Not so long ago, a New York college student was doing her own preparation.. planning, hard work and drive that ultimately catapulted her into the national spotlight and cemented her place in the storied history of the Miss America Program.

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Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

“I will always be incredibly proud to be associated with the Miss America title,” Kira told me recently.  “Only about 90 women can even say that! It has enriched my life more than I can convey, not to mention the personal growth, relationships, and experiences I have had ever since.”

Kira grew up in California and showed early on she was a talented, charismatic leader.  She held two state pageant titles by 16 years old, she was Student Body President of her high school, and a member of the Varsity Cheerleading Squad.  Kira moved to New York after high school to triple major in political science, global studies and geography.  At Hofstra University, Kira maintained a 3.6 GPA, she studied in Barcelona and she held multiple internships in political consultancy in Washington DC.  Somewhere, she found time to compete for the title of Miss New York, winning on her second try in 2014.

“The thing about being Miss New York is that it’s unlike any other state, especially if you’ve spent any time living in the city,” said Kira.  “You are fighting to maintain relevance in a place that has so much other stuff going on, you can easily slip into the shadows. You are also being exposed to high profile events, people and opportunities constantly which is great preparation for Miss America. In New York our pageant culture is very unique. The girl is very much in charge of her own preparation. I chose every piece of my wardrobe, I worked hard to get sponsors that I wanted, and I took the subway to the Bronx and Brooklyn for appearances that I scheduled myself. We have an incredible board and support team, but Miss New York herself leads the charge. It is tough and requires grit but that’s a recipe for one heck of a Miss America contestant.”

Proof: Kira made history in September of 2014, becoming the 3rd straight Miss New York to be crowned Miss America.

“I remember a blur of screaming and lights and turning around to see all of my Miss America sisters smiling and clapping,” said Kira.”

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A dream come true for countless little girls and young women across America, one that was quickly tainted by a small group trying to muddy Kira’s reputation.  They criticized her talent, a song-and-Solo-cup routine mirroring Anna Kendrick’s viral video.  They questioned her character regarding her participation in sorority activities.  Here was a woman who speaks three languages, was an honors student with three majors, an elite golfer, and she just did the impossible by becoming the 3rd consecutive contestant from one state to win that national title.. and she was being virtually assaulted by critics within days of her groundbreaking success.

“People focus on the negatives because 1: It makes them feel better about themselves and 2: The higher you rise, the more people will want to tear you down, because that is just the way many people are,” said Kira.  “I learned that lesson very early on as Miss America.  It taught me who my true friends were and who was really there for me.  I don’t focus on the negative.  If I did, I would still be sitting and responding to the millions of nasty tweets and comments I’ve gotten over the last few years.  Instead, I focus on the positive, the amazing things I’ve been able to accomplish, and the goals I continue to aspire to.”

Kira won me over through her reign as Miss America… starting with this:

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…a photo shoot with her cup.  She stood tall in the face of all the haters and OWNED it.  Something about this photo made me smile and think ‘you go, girl!’

‘Miss America isn’t a talent show.  Talent is meant to show you can entertain, you can connect with people.  That is the job of Miss America.’

It was the first of MANY photos of Kira, taking the world by storm.

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Presenting at the Academy of Country Music Awards

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Red Carpet at the Billboard Music Awards

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Presenting at the American Music Awards

Kira returned the Miss America brand to the national spotlight, appearing at and/or presenting at numerous awards shows (and often featured in the Best Dressed section after!)  She was the first Miss America in 43 years to visit troops overseas with the USO.

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And Kira shared her spotlight with her biggest.. yet smallest fans, as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

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‘Remember when you are fundraising, there are tiny human beings on the other end who benefit from that.  No matter what challenges we face there are these little people who rely so much on us.’

She also embarked on a personal crusade against domestic violence, a campaign she dubbed ‘Put The Nail In It’.  She partnered with Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, and started a social media revolution.

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Kira painted her left ring fingernail purple, the color of the anti-domestic violence movement, and encouraged her half-million social media followers to do the same and unite together, as one collective voice, that we will support survivors and stop violence.  Music stars, professional athletes, reality TV stars, and countless others across America proudly painted and posted.

“No one can prepare themselves for suddenly being the face of a social media movement!” said Kira.  “But it was my greatest honor to be part of the creation of the ‘Put The Nail In It’ campaign.  It continues to garner huge impressions on social media while spreading awareness for the cause.  I couldn’t be more proud of it!”

By September of 2015, Kira Kazantsev was both sad to pass on her crown to new Miss America Betty Cantrell (click here to read more!) yet ready to begin a new adventure on her own.

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Photo courtesy People

 

“It was really hard for me to let go of a role I loved so much,” Kira told me.  “At the same time, I was ecstatic to take everything I’d learned and venture out into the world as just Kira.”

Kira has since expanded upon the connections she made and experiences she had as Miss America.  She’s hosted multiple events from the red carpet to the the non-profit world, she has performed and spoken at high profile venues across the country, and she’s played in numerous charity golf tournaments including the BMW Pro Am, and the Tiger Jam for the Tiger Woods Foundation.  She is now based in Los Angeles, using her extraordinary social media knowledge and experience as the Director of Community Engagement for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the same organization she devoted so much of her life to as Miss America.

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Named one of the Most Beautiful Women In Golf by People Magazine & Golf.com

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Hosting Red Carpet coverage for the American Music Awards

“I’ve definitely taken time to travel and do things for me, but sometimes my schedule these days feels just as busy if not busier than my time as Miss America and I love that!” said Kira.  “I find that I’ve grown accustomed to that pace and If I’m not constantly doing something then I just feel a little off.  I try to balance as much as I can but there’s nothing better than the thrill of accomplishment.”

And through that balance, Kira continues to be a role model for women of all ages and backgrounds.  Through her social media and blog (click here for more!), Kira continues to advocate for health and fitness, chronicling how she faces the same challenges so many working women do regarding fast food and finding time to work out.

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“It is always a struggle,” Kira told me.  “I just remind myself that people battle disease, hunger, homelessness and far bigger problems than I could ever imagine every day, so I think I can find the will to make healthier eating choices and to get myself to the gym.  Now, I’m not always on top of it, but I do my best and that’s all anyone can do.  Life is full of choices and if we make the choice to take care of our bodies then somehow, someway, we find the time and we get it done.  It is all about perspective.”

Kira is sharing that insight with dozens of Nebraska women this weekend at Crowns and Gowns 2017 in North Platte as a featured guest.  She often thinks back on her own pageant journey, both her successes and her regrets.

“A million, but such is life and there is nothing I can do about them now,” said Kira.  “I try and work on this, but instinctually after every appearance, speech, and interaction, I turn it over in my head a million times.  Self doubt is my constant companion.  However, I know that I am being my best possible self and putting my best foot forward, always, and I am proud of everything I have accomplished and continue to pursue.”

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That is the self evaluation, the search within one’s self, that Kira hopes young women learn from her story.  To speak out on what you believe in.  To define this competition anyway you like and share your talents with the world.  To set larger than life goals whether you are a local titleholder, or Miss America.

“Miss America is evolving and the ones who can keep up with those changes and be cutting edge in their definition of titleholders will remain at the forefront,” said Kira.

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And to all of the young women competing for Miss Nebraska this year, dreaming of the day they could follow in Kira Kazantsev’s footsteps, this advocate, speaker, host and former Miss America has a message.

“Please just be YOU!” she said.  “Be genuine, real and off the cuff but always be prepared.  Do your research and work ahead of time and READY for a JOB.  This is more than a pageant, it’s an opportunity that can change your life forever and bring you incredible experiences.  At the same time, if it doesn’t work out, no big deal! We all have a plan and maybe being Miss Blah Blah isn’t part of yours and that’s ok.  Miss America is A dream, not THE dream.  There should be other things in your life that you are aspiring to like internships, colleges, charity work, and larger than life dreams.  You’ve got this, and only YOU can make it happen.”

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Photo courtesy Kristy Belcher Photography

‘As a  titleholder, you have the power to have a positive impact on somebody’s life.  That’s why we do this, it’s not for the crown, it’s for these kids.  It’s not about me, it’s about the title and what it makes people feel.  Hold on to who you are and be confident in the person you want to be.’

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Kira Kazantsev is available for public appearances and events.  For booking information and more about Kira, CLICK HERE to visit her website.  You can also follow Kira on social media: CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook, HERE to follow on Instagram.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook

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PREVIOUS.. Brilliance (2017 Series Preview)

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Special Feature: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell

My dad told me once, ‘if you love what you do, it never feels like work.  Every day, you go to do something you enjoy, and you just get paid for it!’

I’ve been interviewing and writing about Miss Nebraska contestants for three years now.  Many have said they are competing for a JOB.  You’re about to meet a young woman proving every single day that is EXACTLY what this honor is.

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Photo courtesy Matt Boyd Photography and the Miss America Organization

Betty Cantrell is Miss America 2016.  To anyone who thinks all beauty queens do is wave their hands and smile.. STEP BACK.

“A normal day for me is getting up super early, putting on a lot of makeup, making sure my hair looks nice, and doing a full day of events,” Betty told me earlier this month.  “Usually a full day is about 12 hours; I’m always ready to crash by the end of the day.”

Betty’s journey to Miss America started in 2013, when she entered a local pageant in her home state, hoping to become Miss Georgia.  Betty finished as 1st or 2nd runner-up three times before winning a local title, and went on to place 2nd runner up at the 2014 Miss Georgia Pageant.  Betty tried again just weeks later, becoming Miss Warner Robins 2015.  Representing her hometown, Betty was crowned Miss Georgia 2015, winning $15,000 in scholarship money and a ticket to compete at Miss America.

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Photo courtesy Matt Boyd Photography

“I decided to begin competing in pageants for the scholarship opportunities offered by the Miss America Organization and because I love to sing and I really enjoyed competing in talent competitions,” said Betty.  “I just really loved everything this organization stood for: Scholarship, Service, Style and Success. (Those are the four points of the crown, the 4 S’s.)”

Betty had less than three months to prepare for Miss America; she tells me she prepped the same as she did for Miss Georgia (just stressed out a little bit more.)  Immediately, she caught the attention of the Twitterverse that follows Miss America, and everyone following the chatter at home, by winning one of only 3 preliminary talent awards with her powerful vocal performance of ‘Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio!’ from Madama Butterfly.

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Photo courtesy The Miss America Organization/Bruce V. Boyajian; CLICK HERE to watch Betty’s performance!

“I loved winning preliminary talent at Miss America,” said Betty.  “If I hadn’t won the competition, winning talent would have been enough for me.  I love to perform, so being validated on my talent on a national level was amazing.  I also made SOOO many friends at Miss America and I’m so grateful for those friendships because I know they will last forever.”

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The 2016 Miss America Pageant titleholders surprising Betty with a birthday treat; she celebrated her 21st birthday while she competed at Miss America. (Photo courtesy the Miss America Organization)

FINALS NIGHT.. with approximately 7-million people watching across the country, Miss Georgia Betty Cantrell was crowned Miss America 2016.  She is only the 2nd Georgia representative to win the title, taking home $52,000 in scholarship money.

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Photo courtesy The Miss America Organization/Bruce V. Boyajian

“I couldn’t believe that I had just won,” said Betty.  “I was so thankful to the judges for picking me and for seeing through my imperfections.  They saw that I’m the real deal and could be a good role model for young people everywhere.”

Those ‘imperfections’…. during her final moments before she won the title, Betty took on a complicated question on stage regarding ‘Deflategate’, and had a minor trip in her evening gown.

First, let’s take a step back.  How many times have you tripped in the office, at the mall, or anywhere else… we all do it!  Second, all of the Top 7 finalists at this year’s competition were put on the spot about some of the hottest topics and issues we face today.. and they had courage under fire in front of 7-MILLION people!

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Photo courtesy the Miss America Organization

Still, haters gonna hate.. and Betty (like many Miss Americas before her) faced almost immediate criticism that the judges made the wrong choice.  Despite an overwhelming, and sometimes hateful social and mainstream media storm, Betty IMMEDIATELY got to work, ready to make a difference as Miss America 2016.

 Literally, from New York to LA, Betty Cantrell set out to cover the country and impact as many people as possible.  She accepted countless interviews, she visited the New York Stock Exchange, she rubbed elbows with Hollywood celebrities, and always made time for the children that matter to her most, pediatric patients in Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“I always love doing events with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals,” Betty told me.  “CMNH is the official platform of the organization and I love kids, so anytime I get to work with them is just awesome.”

Then in December, just three months into her reign, Betty did something jaw-dropping..

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..she chopped off all the long, gorgeous hair so many associate with beauty queens.  With Miss America.  Betty did it to donate to pediatric cancer patients who needed it, and with that, inspired countless teens and women after her to follow her lead.

Betty Cantrell has advocated for farmers and 4H.  She’s taken part in the USO tour, singing for men and women around the world serving our country.  She’s performed for school after school after school, dazzling children everywhere with her INCREDIBLE rendition of ‘Let It Go’.

And in a time where people seem to increasingly have a negative connotation of pageants, Betty Cantrell has brought the Miss America brand back into the forefront.  She’s spoken and performed in front of the Georgia legislature.  She’s drawn 65,000 followers on Twitter.  She’s presented and/or performed at some of the country’s biggest events and awards shows, making friends with some of America’s most popular performers.

Red carpet photo courtesy Getty Images

“My favorite appearances so far have been the CMA’s and the ACM awards shows,” said Betty, who was also featured in People Magazine’s Best Dressed list after the events.  “I’m an aspiring country singer, so hanging out with all of the country artists I look up to is always pretty thrilling.”

Every time someone sees Miss America at a respected event, I’d argue that’s one more person who might think ‘hmm, what’s this Miss America thing all about?’ and maybe find out a little more about the thousands of young women competing, earning thousands in scholarships, and making a difference in their communities.  Betty, for example, partnered early on with Team FNV to promote her platform ‘Healthy Children, Strong America.’  Joining her mission.. actresses Jessica Alba and Kristen Bell, NBA star Stephen Curry and singer Nick Jonas.

“I have now partnered with the American Farm Bureau to help spread the word about kids eating healthy, exercising, and learning about where their food comes from!” said Betty.

The one thing NOT mentioned in my interview with Betty… a break.  Because she rarely gets one.  As Nebraska prepares to crown a new titleholder in just weeks, Miss America 2016 is preparing to hand over her crown, and resume life as simply, Betty Cantrell.

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“I am looking forward to having a normal life again!” said Betty.  “My plan is to move to Nashville and work on my country singing career.”  (Click here to follow Betty’s new professional account on Twitter!)

Maybe you’ve watched Miss America your whole life.  Maybe you’ve tried to AVOID Miss America your whole life.. not wanting to feed into a culture that subjects women to swimsuits, high heels and objectification.

If you’re the latter, Betty Cantrell has a message for you.

“This is a fun and philanthropic way to be a role model and earn scholarships to further your education,” said Betty.  (Quick recap: Betty, a Mercer University student, has made more than $67,000 in scholarships competing in the Miss America Organization.)  “Another reason to compete is for the friendships you make that will last a lifetime.  I was skeptical at first, too, but when I really learned what the organization is all about, I was so happy I chose to be involved.”

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To the women hoping to become Miss Nebraska.. dreaming of becoming the woman Betty crowns Miss America in just three short months, a reminder.

“My number one piece of advice to every contestant in every state is just to be yourself,” said Betty.  “Show those judges what makes you special and unique.  Be confidently and unapologetically, you!”

And Miss America 2016 has no apologies.  She’s a farm girl, a Georgia peach, perfectly imperfect, a Mercer Bear, a country star-in-the-making, a daughter, granddaughter, and friend.  She is Baciliky Andris ‘Betty’ Cantrell, a girl given a name meaning’royalty’.. a woman showing her country what being a queen is all about.

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“I want people to remember me as the different Miss America,” said Betty.  “The Miss America who didn’t care what the haters had to say.  The one who chopped off her hair and donated it.  The one who grew up on a farm and became Miss America.  I just want people to remember me as a Miss America that changed the stigma of what Miss America is and should be, forever.”

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My sincere thanks to Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell for taking the time for our interview, and to  the Miss America Organization’s Chelsea Mineur for facilitating this!

To learn more about Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell, click each link to follow

on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram.  You can also CLICK HERE to visit the Miss America Organization Facebook page for a full list of resources and information about Betty and the program.  The 2017 Miss America Pageant takes place September 11 on ABC!

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CLICK HERE to meet the 2016 Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants!

The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Sheridan Blanco!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Evolution

They say life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.

I, like many (I hope I’m not alone!), have periods of my life that I look back at and just SHUDDER. Times where my immaturity and weaknesses shined brighter than the good I hope I project, times I hope others have forgotten even though I simply cannot.  And maybe that’s a good thing; how can you climb out of valleys if you DON’T have those low points in the first place?  How can you grow if you don’t recognize those mistakes and learn from them?

Life is a journey.  There are lots of bumps along the way.  It’s not how often you trip, it’s how many times you catch yourself, and even learn how to avoid those trouble spots.  Let’s call it personal evolution.

Marie Allison is a Creighton University graduate who has never been afraid to try something, and more importantly, never been afraid to keep going or move on.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

From communication, to patriotism.  From classic to country.  From rodeo pageants.. to Miss Nebraska.  This young lady is no stranger to experiences or to changes, and her life is a colorful piece of artwork reflecting that.

“I am a music and art aficionada, an accomplished equestrienne, adventuries foodie/student of healthful lifestyle, fitness and outdoors enthusiast, passionate academic, and aspiring salsera (I love all latine dance!),” Marie told me recently.  She is also Miss Western Nebraska 2016.

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“I became involved with the Miss America system three years ago after deciding that rodeo pageants involved horses, sure, but they just were not for me,” said Marie, who went on to compete for Miss Colorado in 2014.  “I love how the Miss America Pageant system is a platform for feminine empowerment and service.  I became aware of the idea that holding a title is the ultimate responsibility and a job, not just decorative wording.  I liked that idea and related to it on paper, but was unsure how to be passionate and employ it in my own life.”

So Marie competed again in a new state while attending Creighton, qualifying to compete for Miss Nebraska 2015.  Marie chose a song highlighting her classical training (she now has a Music degree from Creighton), and as she told me last year, she focused on Communciation: Proactive Prevention as her personal message and platform (click here to read more!)  This year.. everything is different.

“If asked before why I want this job, I would have had an answer, but I do not think I believed in my own ability to hold the title of Miss Nebraska before this year,” said Marie.  “I have discovered more about who I am every time I compete because I am put in a unique position to think about how I relate to the world and why I do what I do (not just in pageants); my ideals, my goals, my aspirations, my values, my morals, and so on.”

Here’s a sample of what Marie’s discovered about herself in the last year alone..

She loves to model, featured here in photos by Anthony Gaines Photography, and walking the runway for designer Sabrina Jones at Omaha Fashion Week.

She loves to create art, through something as simple as a selfie, or as complex as a sketch.

She loves to serve, and gets to do it through both volunteering and through her full time jobs.

“I currently work full-time for Omaha Housing Authority as an Executive Assistant and also with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network as a Marketing Specialist,” said Marie.  “I am humbled to have secure employment that keeps me engaged in a constant learning experience, but luckily I find time to fit in working on developing the OHA Foundation’s donor base, fundraising events and childhood literacy programs, as well as fundraising for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and other organizations dedicated to pediatric cancer research.  I strongly advocate both philanthropy and service in daily life an am always looking for new volunteer opportunities.”

And as she started planning to compete for the Miss Nebraska title, Marie did a 180.. changing her talent genre and her personal platform.

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Marie attending President Obama’s speech in Omaha in January.

“My platform is called ‘Justice For All’.  We have the power to love each other and stand together; it is time we use that power, ” said Marie.  “The greatest challenge I see facing my generation is the rifts being formed by racial and socioeconomic disparity.  It is my goal to start an educated dialogue surrounding these issues to invite people to begin making changes in their individual daily lives and their communities, which will translate to our country and our world.  Acknowledging bias and prejudice and how each of us is acculturated is a first step twoards lasting change.  I aspire to this challenge because of the very real challenges my family faced when I was growing up.”

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“After much deliberation, I decided to sing ‘Where Were You’ written by Alan Jackson in honor of 9/11,” said Marie.  “This song wasn’t exactly in my wheel house, to say the least.  It is not traditionally flashy and showy like most pageant pieces, but I knew it was the right song because it was the one that gave me shivers I still have every time I hear it, and a song I am honored to sing.  In Talent, it is my goal to connect with my audience in the short 90 seconds allotted.  The message that there is nothing greater than love that keeps us interconnected is profound and is at the heart of my platform.”

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To those who follow the Miss Nebraska pageant.. Marie Allison is coming back this year as a different contestant, with a changed outlook.  To those who think negatively of pageants in general, Marie wants you to know Miss America has also evolved over the years.

“People who dismiss pageantry as an antiquated tradition where women degrade themselves by focusing only on appearance are often doing just that: focusing on what pageantry appears to be, rather than what it means to the individuals involved and seeing them as upstanding women who are future leaders,” said Marie.  “Miss America has changed since 1921 to promote women’s interests.  The women in the Miss Ameirica program are some of the most intelligent and wonderful people who are ready to take action to make a difference.  The actual pageant, what you see on stage, is the tip of the iceberg of what we do and who we are: we have the beauty, the brains, the talent, and the wherewithal to make great things happen.  There is a reason this has remained a great sisterhood and tradition for almost 100 years.  Miss America showcases the great power of the feminine.  I can say for myself, and for each contestant involved, that we mature as people because of the pageant experience, professionally and personally.”

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Personal evolution.  With the family and friends Marie calls ‘a core component’ of who she is, this young woman is ready to showcase her authentic self on one of our state’s biggest stages.

“This year, I know I have the goals and the wherewithal to make lasting connections that matter and implement a plan of action to promote the Miss Nebraska Organization,” said Marie.  “I have a platform I am excited to promote, a plan, and conviction to see it through regardless of the outcome of the pageant in June.  I know how I want to shape my year of service and what it will take to treat this title both as a humbling, awesome experience as a representative of this wonderful state and as a job to be done.”

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Photo courtesy Anthony Gaines Photography

“I would be honored to have the opportunity of shaping this role with a perspective that comes from hard work, dedication to learning and morals, and a desire to lift others up and include them in the conversations about pageants, scholarship and uniting together to greet the future,” said Marie.  “I endeavor to be congruent in what I think and what I pursue in life and simply allow myself to be me when I compete in spite of the pressure to appear and act in a certain way.  Knowing I can be myself and rely on who I am what I think in any given situation and that I am loved by people who are important to me is one of the most humbling, gratifying experiences.  Winning is always nice, but the most uplifiting experiences for me come from accepting all the good and the bad that come with being who I am.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Western Nebraska 2016 Marie Allison on Facebook.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MARIE?

2015 * Home Of The Brave

For more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Heather Hayes by phone at 307-340-0601, or by email at Heather.Hayes@chartercom.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Platte River’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Young!

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Brianna Little!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!